When less is actually more.
Parabens, sulphates and silicones. These are the top three ingredients I try to avoid when purchasing new skincare and cosmetic products. Add in words like ‘vegan’, ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘recyclable’ and I’m pretty much sold.
But something I never considered before was looking for waterless beauty products. Until recently, I didn’t realise just how much the beauty industry relies on water in its formulations.
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Believe it or not, H2O is actually the main ingredient of most bottled beauty products. It can account for up to 80 per cent of your shampoo, and anywhere between 70 and 90 per cent of your lotions and moisturisers. The same goes for liquid cosmetics.
When I first learned this, I immediately started rifling through my bathroom cabinets and scanning the ingredients list of all the skincare and haircare products I owned. Sure enough, ‘aqua’ is listed as one of the top ingredients in all of them, alongside thickeners, preservatives and fragrances.
As we’re in the midst of a global water crisis, this obviously poses a huge problem. According to World Vision Australia, there are 758 million people across the globe who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. The World Health Organisation also estimates that by 2025, water scarcity will affect half of our global population.
It seems almost impossible, then, that the beauty industry would contribute so heavily to global water use. But it does. In 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that toiletries and cosmetics account for a whopping $4.5 billion of our annual expenditure. That’s one hell of a water footprint.
Despite this dire assessment, some brands like L’Oreal and Go-To Skincare are starting to create formulations that are completely anhydrous (meaning water-free) opting for waxes, butters or oils instead of water. This also allows for lighter packaging, a lower shipping weight, and reduced water, carbon and waste footprints. But when water is involved in almost every aspect of product manufacturing, waterless formulas aren’t a blanket solution.
To find out more, I spoke with Natassia Nicolao, the founder and CEO of Conserving Beauty, who has taken waterless beauty one step further. When she launched her brand in Melbourne in 2021, it became Australia’s first truly water-conscious beauty brand.
What sets Conserving Beauty apart?
“I think we can all agree that the world doesn’t need another skincare brand – there are so many good ones out there. But what it does need is a change for the industry. As an industry, we have become way too heavily reliant on water. We literally use it at every single stage of a product life cycle.
“There are some brands out there that have started to do some waterless formulations… which is amazing. But going waterless is the first step,” says Natassia.
Currently, Conserving Beauty has three products: the Sea You Cleansing Balm, Sea Your Glow Mask, and Conserve You Face Oil, and each of these products is completely anhydrous. However, the young CEO has gone beyond just creating waterless formulas. Amazingly, she has managed to eliminate water from just about every step of the manufacturing process.
“For me, it was equally important to create waterless products as it was to have a transparent supply chain,” she explains. “That’s what sets Conserving Beauty apart from simply removing water from a formulation.”
The brand is also working with the Water Footprint Network, a global network of organisations and individuals collaborating to solve the world’s water crisis. “The first project we’re doing together is literally to map and measure our exact water footprint through all three of our existing products,” says Natassia.
Although this research is primarily being conducted to ensure the accuracy and transparency of Conserving Beauty’s waterless guarantee, the report will be made available to the public.
“In order to make sufficient, active change within the industry, I view it as a platform for educating, and I think that’s really powerful. The more we know as consumers and the more we know as a collective, we can make better-informed decisions throughout our day, and that ultimately will create the most change.”
How do waterless formulas benefit our skin?
Water is often used as a cheap filler and solvent. It doesn’t have any direct benefit to the skin, and actually dilutes the remaining active ingredients. As a qualified biochemist, Natassia knew that by removing water, she could increase the potency of her products.
“If we can give people 13 or less good, pure, potent ingredients, it really simplifies the formulation to the consumer and cuts out all that nonsense of banned ingredients, or a ‘nasty list’ of 2000 to 3000 ingredients we don’t use.
“And obviously, when you’re using potent ingredients, they’re going to have a direct benefit to your skin. That’s what they do, that’s how they perform. You can also use less, so it lasts longer. It has a flow on effect,” she says.
Do consumers care about waterless beauty?
The brand’s early success points to a resounding ‘yes’. But according to Natassia, getting investors to back Conserving Beauty was difficult, as many didn’t think that consumers would care about water-responsible skincare.
“One investor said to me, ‘You are crazy for spending that much of your starting money on your water footprint research project, and not spending that on paid media ads. I think that was a really dumb decision’.
“I was like, ‘That goes down to having authenticity and purpose and a vision, and if you can’t see that, then you’re not the right partner for me’,” Natassia explains.
Looking to the future
“I feel like my one big, proud, exciting moment has been locking down my next innovation,” she says. “It’s been a year in the making, and I didn’t know I was going to get the technology I needed. It’s just such an exciting achievement and it will actually solve a huge problem that’s not just waterless.”
While she couldn’t give much away, she did reveal that she’s using a world-first technology that will address both water conservation and waste reduction. Both products will be launched on Earth Day 2022, which is fitting for a brand that’s doing its utmost to create a more environmentally conscious beauty industry.
Browse the full Conserving Beauty range here.